A Vision So Noble


The US Army and 'transformation'

The Army After Next
The Army After Next: The First Postindustrial Army
(Thomas Adams; Stanford Security Studies)

Not an easy read, but a valuable addition to anyone's library about war in the modern world. Here are my notes from the book:

The "transformational" military: "For Rumsfeld and those around him this meant a truly integrated joint force led by air power.... 'But the vision of all this is totally dependent on information technologies and the network. If that part of the equation breaks down, what you have are small, less capable battle platforms that are more vulnerable.' In other words," comments Mr Adams with the good humor that makes this book so interesting, "it was a wonderful idea if it worked and a disaster if it did not." (p.2)

Based on the Stryker light armored vehicle that was supposed to replace the Abrams M1 tank, Bradley M2 personnel carrier, and the field artillery. A Stryker brigade could deploy anywhere in the world in 36 hours and the entire division within 5 days. (p.3)

"Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrated the effectiveness of the new technologies on the ground and in the air, but warfare is not primarily a technological demonstration." The enemy was defeated in a rush, but "Then insurgents insisted on prolonging the fight." (p.5)

"[P]artisans of traditional armored war face two problems.... First of all, the early twenty-first century seems to hold few enemies worth the attention of these high-tech, high-intensity forces.... [Second], all the paraphenalia of high intensity land warfare must be transported to war by sea and air over a period of months." (pp.7-8) Hence the interest on lightweight, rapidly deployable forces.

Revolution in Military Affairs: As defined by Andrew Marshall of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, an RMA must have three components: 1) technological innovation, 2) operational concept (or doctrine), 3) organization adaptation. (p.12)

"For U.S. military analysts, the [1973] October War showed that aggressive ground combat doctrine overcame superior numbers by using attack aircraft and armored vehicles ... to maneuver deep into enemy rear echelons. The Israeli example ... followed the model set by [Heinz] Guderian in 1938--air power as highly mobile artillery able to follow fast-moving ground forces." (p.15-16) This led in 1982 to the US Army doctrine of AirLand Battle. (p.17) "Desert Storm was fought by the doctrine of AirLand Battle, a direct descendent of Guderian's blitzkrieg, enhanced by major improvements in firepower, mobility, command and control, logicstics, and reconnaissance." (pp.23-24)

"Seen this way, the real RMA was a revolution in training.... The key to victory in the Gulf War [in 1991] was not merely advanced technology but [its] skillful exploitation ... by highly trained soldiers." (p.28) For the Air Force, however, "Desert Storm had finally validated the long-held theories of Mitchell, Douhet, and Alexander de Seversky that air forces would supplant land and sea forces as the decisive instrument of military victory." (p.33)

The Army's solution was "the Force XXI heavy division.... Enhanced deployment and battlefield agility was to be achieved in part by the simple expedient of reducing the number of personnel ... from 18,069 troops to 15,719. The fact that it was conceptually little more than the 1943 armored division with better telephones was not allowed to dampen the general enthusiasm." (p.35)

Rapid Decisive Operations, 2000: "Since Desert Storm there had been orders-of-magnitude improvements in information processing capabilities" from 2400 bits per second in 1991 to 23 million bps by the time of the Bosnian intervention. Alas, "more, longer messages were sent, clogging the system and creating confusion. A solution was neatly turned back into a problem" (p.66)

Not everyone wanted to get light. "Without tanks," one officer argued, "we're just a big version of the Marine Corps." (p.88)

"If he thinks he's going to change the culture of the military overnight, he ain't seen nothing and he ain't been nowhere" -- Admiral William Crowe (USN retired), speaking of the incoming President George W. Bush (p.102)

"Camp Udairi, 15 miles from the Iraqi borders was the centerpiece of the digital networks [in March 2003].... It had been built primarily as a staging area for troops going forward, but the camp also held dozens of antennas and satellite dishes.... The center of the site was a standard Army tent festooned with cables leading to and form the antenna array. When the air conditioning faltered in the baking heat, [PFC] Michael Boone swept the bank of electronics with an ordinary home vacuum cleaner." (p.150)

"But during the early summer of 2004, the U.S. Army quietly began to move more Abrams tanks to Iraq. Transformation looked good on briefing slides, but armor was stll welcome on the ground. Few things demonstrated capability and resolve like 70 tons of tank rumbling down a city street." (p.167)

On April 3, 2003, at a bridge southwest of Baghdad, in the largest counterattack of the war, no fewer than three "Iraqi brigades descended on a single U.S. battalion, about 1,000 soldiers supported by 30 M1 tanks and 14 Bradley fighting vehicles. When the sun rose, the Iraqi units had been decimated at a cost of eight Americans wounded. Better training, better equipment, air support, and just plain better soldiering made the difference. Information was not armor; armor was armor.... The U.S.-led force [in Iraq] certainly accomplished more with less, but with equal certainty it failed to prove that the day of heavy industrial age ground forces was over." (p.178) "Impressive as the combat performance was, it hardly qualified as a rapid-deployment war.... It could be argued that the technique of a rapid armored thrust supported by air power looked more like the 1940 German Blitzkrieg in France than anything truly 'transformational.'" (p.179)

The "modular" army began in 2004 with the 3rd Infantry and 101st Airborne divisions. They would be based on brigades, each of which would lose one battalion while adding specialist units such as military intelligence that would normally belong to the division, enabling them to deploy independently. (pp.183-84)

Special Forces: "The OSD was apparently willing, perhaps even enthusiastic, about undertaking clandestine military operations, meaning those conducted secretly by U.S. military forces with or without the cooperation of local national troops. But 'paramilitary' operations as conducted by the CIA involve persons that are not part of the armed forces of the United States." (p.201)

"On the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed forces are conducting the long predicted nonlinear noncontiguous operations. And, they finally face the future enemy--the textbook example of a poorly defined but highly motivated foe, unconstrained in its methods and with access to the technology of the developed world. The fedayeen and Al-Qaeda and their brethren do not need to develop a highly capable, reasonably secure worldwide communications system. They can have one for the price of a cell phone." (p.246)

"The technological leap of the original Army Transformation Plan was aimed at an enemy that more closely resembled the USSR of the Cold War era than the enemies faced in the real world. Even had its development gone as hoped, its application to threats like terrorism and insurgency is doubtful." (p.249)

Buy it at Amazon.com